In the lead up to Christmas every year, Wim Den Hartog has his work cut out for him.
The head chef at L’Orange Patisserie in Manuka Court has two months to bake, craft, decorate and wrap more than 150 gingerbread houses, at a rate of about one every two hours. And 2023 has proven extra challenging.
“We start at the beginning of November, making the dough for the panels – we’re talking about 90 kilograms of dough all up,” he said.
“The weather has been tricky this year because it’s been very humid, so it’s hard for the icing to dry. We’ve been keeping the fans on and wrapping them as quickly as we can.”
His wife Misty did warn him of this.
“I remember saying to my wife, ‘I think I can make a few of them – what do you reckon?’ She said I should have a think about it because ‘you don’t know what you’ll start’. And yeah, well, this is where we’re at now.”
Wim hails from the Netherlands, where he gained years of experience in commercial cookery. When he and his family moved to Australia, he was won over by seafood and steaks immediately and operated several restaurants in Manuka, including Prickly Pear and A Foreign Affair.
But his true love remained pastry, and together, he and Misty founded L’Orange Patisserie eight years ago. The first gingerbread houses came along in November 2018 – about 80 of them.
“Germany and Austria are mainly famous for them, but they’re very popular throughout Europe,” he said.
“We were busy for weeks as kids, making all these sorts of things, a lot of marzipan and lollies. I remember making a gingerbread church too. The best part was always the lollies.”
The second year, there were 130 gingerbread houses and the number has grown slowly but surely every since to the point he’s pretty much at the limit of what’s “physically possible”.
“Most of them are ordered online, but a lot of people also see them here and on social media, stop and take pictures, and that’s how the cat gets out of the bag.”
It’s not your usual gingerbread. Wim uses a variation of the Dutch Speculaas recipe, which adds a hint of spice to the mix, even if the result is more like shortbread and therefore harder to work with. The trick to keeping the structure upright lies in the royal icing.
“The consistency of your icing – egg white, lemon juice and icing sugar – has to be right, like toothpaste.”
Each one takes about an hour and 50 minutes to create, and that’s after some changes to speed things up.
“I have acrylic moulds for the panels, which helps us go a little faster, but we’re going to have to get smarter about it, because it takes a lot of time away from our other products.”
These other products include traditional Christmas cakes, Dutch spiced biscuits and cakes, and about 4000 mince pies (no kidding). It’s all worth it though.
“The number of comments we get from people coming in – about how wonderful it is and how it makes it feel like Christmas – that’s really what it’s all about,” Wim said.
“I generally make a few extra houses every year, and if we do have one to two left, we drop them off at a retirement village or the hospital – it just makes people happy, and really that’s all you’re doing. You’re not doing it for the money.”
Visit L’Orange Patisserie for more information.
Original Article published by James Coleman on Riotact.